What You Need to Know About Nipple Shields

Every new mom that wants to breastfeed, is going to face an unknown territory, with tons of challenges, patience, and some useful, but often weird advises from different people. This will make it easier to lose focus and to be indecisive about most of the things, most of the time. But it’s perfectly normal and expected. In addition to these challenges, it is a fact that what might work for one mom can be an ultimate disaster for another. That’s why the best advice is to listen to your body, and to your own baby.

The first 24 hours after delivery is the most crucial time for starting the breastfeeding process. Ideally, the mother should be breastfeeding her baby directly after delivery, in the maternity ward itself. The sooner the first breastfeeding happens, the sooner the breasts will start to produce milk. However, it is easier said than done. Most of the time, the baby will have difficulties latching on and even will refuse the breasts.

To some women, the breasts become so sore and irritated, that it makes impossible to stimulate or to continue the natural process of breastfeeding. Sometimes, a new mom has a low milk supply, and without proper advice from a lactation consultant, she might even lose the little she has. There are numerous factors that influences the breastfeeding process itself, and the whole process can be quite overwhelming. In these situations, most of the moms are encouraged to use nipple shields, which are known to help with the transition for both the mother and the baby.

What Is the Purpose of Nipple Shields?

The main purpose of a nipple shield is to help overcome situations that make it difficult to naturally breastfeed, like pain, flat or inverted nipples or baby latching problems. A nipple shield is an artificial nipple made of flexible thin silicone or latex that is worn over the mom’s nipple while she is nursing her baby. It makes a clear, narrow ‘target’ to latch on, and provides a barrier to prevent nipple soreness.

Can Nipple Shields Cause Mastitis?

The short answer is no, it can’t. Mastitis is a consequence of overly full breasts with milk, which causes the breast to be painful and encouraged. Nipple shields actually help with mastitis, and it is recommended for a woman with mastitis to continue breastfeeding to release the pressure and to empty the breasts, although this might be very painful. The nipple shields will help release some if this pain.

Do Nipple Shields Affect Milk Supply?

There is no proof that nipple shields affect milk supply, although combine factors can result in lower milk supply. This can happen if you use the nipple shields improperly, or if you start breastfeeding more seldom. The main rule about breastfeeding is the more you breastfeed, the more milk you will have. It’s all about the demand and supply curve. If you lower the number of feedings, it will eventually lead to reducing the milk supply regardless of using or not a nipple shield.

How Long Can I Wear A Nipple Shield?

Nipple shields can be used for an hour per feeding. They could be worn longer, but you have to be careful as they might fill up and start leaking. Plus, they do get uncomfortable after a while and actually lead to more engorgement and tenderness if worn too long. But there is no time frame for extended use. You can use them as long as you feel comfortable and relaxed. They don’t work as nipple enhancers, though, and are not recommended to be worn without a bra. They are weird looking and far from giving an impression of a “natural” shape. You can wear them under your bra for collecting milk while doing errands and quick stops but be aware that breast milk gets spoiled fast if not stored properly.

How Do You Know What Size Nipple Shields to Get?

Measuring the nipple is the best way to go! After measuring add 4-5 mm to the initial number and you will get a diameter of a nipple shield that will most likely perfectly fit your breast size and be comfortable and secured. In scenarios where you have flat nipples and big areolas, it is recommended to use the bigger size of the nipple shield.

How Do I Transition from Nipple Shield to Breast?

If you plan to transition from using nipple shields to naturally breastfeed, keep in mind, that you have to gradually make the transition. Depending on your reason for using a nipple shield in the first place, the transition to breasts should involve a couple of steps and tricks. If the reason for using a nipple shield was a pain, make sure the pain is gone, and you are relaxed. At the same time, make sure your baby is calm and relaxed (and hungry!) as well, so she doesn’t get upset when you try breastfeeding without the shield she is used to. If you sense she is too upset, go to the old way and try another again later.

If the reason you have been using nipple shields is due to having flat or inverted nipples, try everyting your nipples and shaping the breast before you offer it to your baby (it is recommended that you even start your milk flow). While using a nipple shield your baby will master the latching and sucking techniques, and relatively fast she will get used to your own nipple. The most important thing is to remember that the most crucial part is your connection and the bond with your baby. Always make eye contact with your baby. If you feel stressed, then take a break, and try again at a later time.

Can You Sterilize Your Nipple Shields?

Yes, you can sterilize the shields, and you should. You can either put them in hot boiling water for 5 minutes, use a microwave sterilizer, or just introduce them in your dishwasher machine. Make sure you use a non-toxic soap.

How Do You Clean Your Nipple Shield?

You can use warm soapy water to clean them. They are very easy to hand wash, with a couple of rubs. Use warm water and soap, and rinse well, afterward. You would have to clean the shields after each use. In case you forgot to wash them right after the feeding, and few hours have passed, it is recommended that you sterilize them before the next use.

In Conclusion

The journey of breastfeeding is not an easy path, but the rewards are enormous. As a mother, you need to carefully show and teach the baby how to latch properly, while simultaneously taking care of her posture, and finding a perfect position for yourself to relax. In some situations, due to the shape of the breasts, pain, or baby latching issues, it’s near to impossible to breastfeed the natural way. Nipple shields, together with a good nipple cream,  are great products to help you overcome this painful period (but nonetheless worthy).  When using accordingly and to a reasonable extent, it can do miracles.

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